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|9 reviews in total|
As a child of the '30s, I was immersed in Hollywood musicals I bit more
than I appreciated. I loved [still do] good music, a clever lyric, a
moving melody, with a good degree of tolerance for experimentation with
the off-beat and planned discord of a Stan Kenton. Cole Porter always
symbolized meticulous word-play wed to impeccable melodic phrasing.
From the opening scenes, the vehicle of "De-Lovely"'s presentation was both an annoyance and a distraction. Was this a bio trying to become a musical; or was it a musical trying to be a bio? While this last observation may be my own singular and subjective problem, I squirmed mentally as I tried to figure out whether the makeup artists wanted to make Kevin Kline look like an aging Jeff Daniels, or a real-time Carl Reiner?
It would be nearly impossible to destroy Porter's music; the quality is there regardless of the interpretation. However, the matching of score selection to fragments of Porter's life, professional development and composing venues is a tawdry hodge-podge, put together like a 1940s 7th grader who scores 37% on an American History matching-columns exam. Some of the costumes, stagings and vocals are ludicrous: the costuming and set design for the Venetian duet, two people who appear not to like each other or the fit of their costumes; and the feeble-voiced crooning of a "Mountie" [Nelson Eddy - sound alike]: NOT!
Then there is the presentation of Porter, the man [Kline] and his long-suffering wife [Ashley Judd, excellent with the role she's given]. We can accept the idiosyncratic behavior of genius; we can appreciate a reasonable degree of self-absorption; we can empathize with a free spirit, suddenly crippled and dependent on others. Mrs. Porter knew exactly what she was getting when she entered the marriage; and while we can empathize with her fraying patience, we might expect a bit more fire from a woman whose husband is presented as sexual and social gadabout concerned only with his own gratification, except when the deeper muse is upon him. Finally, there is the staged number with Louis B. Mayer, which itself, would make the MGM lion dyspeptic. Porter may have been an intellectual snob; and Mayer may have been a boorish bully, but Mayer wasn't stupid.
Even in its presentation of Cole's homosexuality, we are introduced to a trite parade of pretty boys; and, within this shallow presentation, we are expected to see deep, caring relationships. It's been years since I've read a Porter biography, but the viewer might better have been served by suggestion: a lone Porter, for example, headed for the city tenderloin, or a seedy bar down by the waterfront, with the camera fading without further graphic explanation. Porter's encounters weren't all that "pretty."
Ahhh, the music. For me there were three show-stoppers, among them Elvis Costello's "Let's Misbehave." My wife and I, both 21+ X 3 + a bunch. thoroughly enjoyed Sheryl Crowe's minor key and roving "Begin the Beguine." It was a refreshing treatment of a Porter standard, which, although cleverly composed and worded, had become cliché in its title and too rigidly fixed in its arrangements. Crowe tosses out her usually fragile vocalizing; shows her musicianship in her rendering, and best of all, sings and phrases as a mature woman, not a whining little girl. Whether the precise Porter would have approved, I can't say; but Crowe gives the song a well-deserved rebirth.
Best of all is the top-notch performance of "Let's Do It," by Alanis Morissette: her vibratto; her full-of-fun, carefree delivery; her meticulously clear enunciation of the fast-flowing words are superb. The lady nails it!
The movie is a terrible disappointment; but it's not the music that brings it down. It is the trivializing of a privileged, yet tragic life. Its sole salvation is the wedding of gifted contemporary vocalists, with priceless old standards; and it may bring about performance revitalization and longevity enhancement for both.
As a Minnie Driver fan, I couldn't believe the tawdry disaster unfolded in the telling of "Slow Burn." Produced in part by Two Drivers (Minnie and her sister, Kate), it gives the impression of two intelligent women based on self-destruction. For three generations, Minnie's forebears have been consumed with the search for her grandmother's remains, and with it, the diamonds with which she disappeared into the desert so many years ago. It has consumed all of Trina's (Driver's) life, from infancy into young womanhood. Now, only Trina and her older mentor (and Mom's former lover) are left. Trina has promised that this will be her final year of searching. After this season, she'll throw in the towel. Two bumbling escaped convicts, one a bit dim (but basically of good heart) - the other given to apparant glimpses of insight between fits of pique, literally stagger upon what three generations of desert veterans have been unable to find. One of the cons is played by James Spader, and I swear I didn't recognize him. (As Martha Stuart might say [as far as a career move is concerned], "This is a good thing." His agent would agree. In short, there are disabled trucks with runaway tendencies. Said trucks seem to appear meaningfully late in the movie, almost cluttering the set ... despite their mechanical devastations. With trucks like these, "OK! I'll take the kids!" There's a sterility in interpersonal relationships that makes evem Driver's character appear to be a cardboard cut out. Is this love in bloom, or heatstroke. There's even a touch of 'Marathon Man" here, for those with expensive "tastes." The premise should have been developed into a taut thriller. However, neither the viewer seeking justice nor the sophisticate in search of irony comes away satisfied. There's a lovely and colorful little bird to win your heart; but this is not the bird director Chrisyian Ford delivers to paying audiences. "Is it safe?" to see "Slow Burn?" Only if it's free and you're desperate for seeing Minnie Driver on the big screen.
"U-571," from writer-director Jonathan Mostow, takes on too much water, along with every submarine movie cliche. It's a great concept, gone under. Set in 1942, the film is intended as an homage to Allied sailors and their underground lookouts, seeking to end the stranglehold of German U-Boats on Atlantic shipping lanes. The Germans' trump card ins Enigma, a typewriter like encoding device, the solution to which has eluded the efforts of cryptanalysts. The secrecy of German coded "traffic" is thus preserved. Capture an Enigma device and you can change the face of the Battle of the Atlantic considerably. A German sub is crippled at sea and is attempting to rendezvous with another, loaded with replacement parts and mechanics. An American sub is enlisted to masquerade as this repair vessel, board the U-Boat and seize its Enigma machine. Lt. Commander Mike Dahlgren (Bill Paxton) commands the sub; and Lt. Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaghey) is the exec officer. Tyler has just become an unhappy camper because he didn't get his own command. Dahlgren did not recommend him, basically because, although he's a great submariner, he lacks the hard edge to demand the ultimate sacrifice of his men. Chief Klough (Harvey Keitel) is an old World War I vet. Then there's Lt. Hirsch (Jake Weber), introduced by admiral as really being "The man in charge ... what he wants, he gets." Marine Major Coonan (David Keith), also answerable to Lt. Hirsch, will lead the "boarding party." Then there's Seaman Wentz, recruited by Hirsch because he's bi-lingual (German) ... educated at Brown no les Sounds okay, so far, even with the screwed up organization chart. Sadly, it's Dive! Dive1 Dive! from here on out. Seaman Wentz fears his crewmates will hate him if they learn he's part German; the obviously green American crew receives invisible commando training from Keith; we're expected to believe that German mechanics are incompetent (guess Director-writer Mostow never drove a Mercedes), and one German sailor is challenged by a black American sailor, "Guess you never saw a black man before? Get used to it!" (Nope, guess he missed the Berlin Olympics where Jesse Owens took Gold and twisted Hitler's shorts in a knot; also missed the two Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fights, too). We're not picking nits here. We know the film is a composite of many events surrounding Enigma; but give us a break! Give us a sense of the time. Realize that the subs and the effects of submarine life and warfare on human combatants provide all the drama one needs. Finally, is this a war tale or a coming of age movie? Submarines ... and the most patient audiences have their limitations.
"The Uninvited" (1944) is based on the Dorothy Macardle novel "Uneasy Freehold," first published in 1942 and set in pre- WW II England, circa 1937 or 1938. The motion picture is faithful to the book, which may explain why this screenplay is the only such credit for writer Jack Partos; his job was, in large part, completed for him before he picked up his pen. Roderick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) have left London for a long weekend of house-hunting in Devon, some 200 miles or more west of London, where Roderick works as a writer and critic, greatly thwarted in his efforts to complete a book of his own on censorship. In the film, he's a music critic who seeks to compose. This insignificant digression has left the legacy of Roderick's "composition," the standard "Stella by Starlight." Both brother and sister are recovering from the agonizing six year terminal suffering of their father. A shared home of their own would help the formerly bouyant and wise-cracking Pamela to recover her old self, and provide a shelter for Roderick to pursue his composition. As if by chance, thry happen upon a beautiful but neglected two-storey stone house overlooking the bay. Upon investigation, they find the house is for sale - at an unbelievable (to them) bargain price. Here they have to deal with the seller, Commander Beech, a retired sea captain (Donald Crisp); and they meet his orphaned granddaughter, Stella Meredith (Gail Russell in her first film role). Local whispered gossip suggests that the new owners of Cliff End got such a bargain because the house has experienced "disturbances," which forced previous owners to leave. There also appears to be a strong power drawing Stella Meredith back to the house where she was raised as a child by the Commander's "sainted" daughter, Mary Meredith; her sometimes-present father, a rootless artist; and at times by a Spanish nanny who at one time posed for her father. First Pamela, who has settled in, then Roderick experience disturbances: an eerie chill in the upstairs "study" (which should have been the warmest room in the place; eerrie, sensual and deep sobbing emanating from downstairs just before sunrise; and the overwhelming, then fleeting scent of mimosa. It becomes evident that there are "forces" (plural) at work here; and they seem to be fighting over Stella. Against the Commander's wishes, Pamela and Roderick invite the impressionable Stella to their home, where Dr. Scott (Alan Napier, later of "Batman" fame,), the Commander's long-time family physician, is also in attendance. The furious Commander sends Stella to a "nursing home," run by his late daughter's friend, Nurse Holloway (Cornelia Otis Skinner). This turns out not to have been his best course of action. While the Commander knows much that he's not revealing, there's as much he doesn't know, which is more significant. This film is a gem in all respects: a how-to text in the effective and affective delivery of a ghost story, true to the "less is more" school of filmmaking. The "effects" are marvelous, both for 1944 and the present. Victor Young's score is beautiful. There are a few scenes in which the Roderick character is used for comic relief: a sailing incident, and a "Fright" scene upon his first exposure to the sobbing. These bring nothing positive to the tale and are the sole weaknesses working to detract from he film's overall excellence. "The Uninvited" is a must for any serious fan of filmmaking. I'd love to see it remade; but I fear that there would be too much temptation to bury the suggested horror in a rubble of ghastly special effects. Perhaps it's best to leave some things alone.
It's hard to tell which element of "The Woman in the Window" (1944)
contributes most to its excellence: script, direction, casting,
performances, lighting, cinematography, scoring. So, it's probably safe to
say, "All of the above!"
"TWITW" introduces us to Assoc. Prof. Richard Wanley (Edward G.
of Gotham College, who has just seen his wife and two kids (young Robert
Blake is "Dickie" Wanley) off for a two week summer vacation. Just prior to
entering his men's club, he is captivated by the portrait of a beautiful
woman in the display window of a neighboring storefront. His club member
friends, District Attorney Frank Lalor (Raymond Massey) and surgeon Dr.
Barkstane (Edmond Breon) notice him staring at the portrait and indulge the
temporary "bachelor professor" in some good-natured ribbing before the
enter the club for drinks and conversation.
As the evenings winds down, the doctor having subscribed some medication
for Prof. Wanley who has complained of fatigue, the colleagues leave. Prof.
Wanley asks for a 10:30 PM call in the event that he dozes off while
in his club chair. Upon leaving the club, Wanley again stops at the
portrait; and standing behind him is the model, Alice Reed (Joan Bennett),
who posed for the artist. She admits that she frequently comes to the spot
to check out people's rections to the painting. The small talk leads the
to an innocent drink at a club followed by a visit to her sumptuous
apartment, where she shows Wanley other sketches by the artist.
The intrusion of an insanely jealous lover leads to struggle, murder (in self-defense) and a quandary: How do two non-merderous strangers go about covering up a murder, disposing of a body (a large one), and manage to trust eachother in the process? The body turns out to be the type of man who warrants headlines. Wanley's friendship with the D.A. gets him invited on a "field trip" to the spot where the body was found. Here we meet the Chief Inspector, beautifully portrayed by Thomas E. Jackson). Through a series of delightfully handled mishaps, the gentle professor manages to exhibit elements about himself which would conspire to make him a prime suspect had the very prospect not been so ludicrous. A sleazy, but extremely clever blackmailer (Dan Duryea) is introduced. How he becomes involved, we'll leave unsaid, so as not to spoil some of the film's outstanding storytelling. The characters are three dimensional. Massey, as the D.A. is both a condescending stuffed-shirt and a caring friend. Jackson, as the Inspector is superbly understated, an affable exterior housing a brilliant mind for detection. Bennett and Duryea are both fine, although some of the dialog between them could easily have been cut to the improvement of the film overall. Robinson is excellent as the unassuming, bright but vulnerable professor. The Nunnally Johnson-Arthur Lange script is right-on, with the noted exceptions. Director Fritz Lang has created a taut, superb suspense tale. "The Woman in the Window" could easily have had either of two endings, one tragically ironic, one concocted to satisfy audiences in search of more delectably amusing resolution. I'll never tell. This film deserves any healthy debate about its ending every bit as much now, in the year 2000, as it did during its first release in 1944.
"The Corndog Man" goes far in supporting current health professionals' advisories regarding the possible life-shortening effects of heavy cell phone exposure, Unfortunately, this liability is passed on as much to the audience as it is to the central character, "Ace Barker." We are introduced to "Ace" as a happily fouled-mouthed boat salesman, whose sales record is charted on a wall by means of little painted boats, much like the decals used by WW II fighter pilots in keeping score on their "kills." He's a producer, even though there's not much competition from his co-workers, who spend most of their time peeping into an adjoining rest room... when they're not eating corn dogs. Ole "Ace" can sell you a boat "quickeren' [here we're introduced to Ace's favorite figure of speech, dealing with feline hygiene]. The cholesterol-laden bliss of the tranquil sales office deteriorates when "Ace" starts getting hale and hearty phone calls from a prospective buyer, who happens at first to call back to express little tidbits he'd forgotten to mention, like Lt. Colombo annoyed us with for so many years. The calls go on ad nauseam as the film becomes a shaggy dog story with an unrelenting theme that annoys, instead of involving the audience. The calls become incessant, increasingly personal and threatening - mixed with tiny niceties, and we realize that Ace is being not only harassed, but visually stalked as well. His productivity declines along with his personality; as his past, and even his clandestine "love life" are laid bare by the caller. The relationship between stalker and prey is revealed; but for this viewer, the unnecessarily protracted harassing calls are deadening. We just don't care. Ace is eventually smart enough to devise a plan for tracking down his tormentor. However, a dead fish incredibly discourages both Ace and the local law, so the only logical move made by the protagonist in his own defense is summarily dicarded, without explanation. Noble Willingham is excellent as Ace. However, he's riding a one trick pony that, for too long a time, takes us nowhere.
I first saw "Keeper of the Flame" a few years after its original release
(1942), probably around age 13, which would make it 1946. At the time of
release, it received mixed reviews at best. I, personally, was quite moved
by it. Now, 53 years later, I've seen it again. Although the film is a bit
dated and its central theme was better hyped at the time of its release, I
believe it holds up fairly well.
The film concerns itself with blind hero worship, as a mesmerized nation
mourns the sudden accidental death of a national icon. A much respected
reporter (Spencer Tracy), just back from Europe where he's witnessed the
early horrors of World War II prior to U.S. entry into the conflict, has
arrived just after the great man's tragic auto accident. He decides to
the hero's biography, so to immortalize his memory. While he manages to
distance himself from the jostling pool of reporters, his biggest challenge
is in seeing the great man's reclusive widow (Katharine
In short, once the contact is made and the research process undertaken,
we see the deceased as through a prism of characters: the eerily effective
secretary (Richard Whorf); the down-home philosopher-cab driver (Percy
Kilbride); the laconic and somewhat cynical doctor (Frank Craven, who
observes of the mass hysteria: "Some of us held out;" a pouting cousin
(Forrest Tucker), and an embittered caretaker (Howard Da Silva) who had
the hero's captain in World War I. Now, restricted physically by wounds he
suffered, he has served the man he once commanded. He seems resentful of
man who saved his life in combat. The effect of unbridled hero worship on
impressioable young mind is captured in the caretaker's son (Darryl
Hickman), convinced he is responsible for the death of his idol. His role
becomes tedious, but is critical to the underlying psychology of the film.
Like the peeling of an onion, the film reveals layer after layer of the people in the life of a giant, his relations with them, and the passions stirred by his presence ... and his causes. We see that it is wise to temper emotion with information in selecting our icons. While Tracy and Hepburn are quite good in their roles, it is the supporting cast which drives the film. Whorf, Da Silva and Craven are outstanding in key roles. The Bronislau Kaper score and excellent black and white cinematography preserve the quality of the drama and help it through its dated moments.
Finally, after almost 35 years of procrastination, I rented a tape of "Repulsion." Yes, Catherine Deneuve is very pretty and would make an added attraction to any beauty salon. Talk about a bad hair day! Big sister and her lover are off to see the Leaning Tower; and little sister (Deneuve) collapses. We wonder how she ever got this far. She's held a job (at which she seems well liked). Suddenly, empty nest syndrome kicks in with a vengeance. Left alone in the apartment with a dead rabbit (no, she's not pregnant), a wall with a stress crack and her own imagination, Deneuve is not a happy camper. Among her other fixations are a ceiling centerpiece, suitable for suspending things from, which makes us think that perhaps director Roman Polanski had seen "The Haunting," made two years earlier. Not even a persistent suitor, who would have been better off with other projects, can shake her out of this funk. In fact, the presence of people seems to make it worse. In short, Deneuve has a few stress cracks of her own; and when they give, it's best not to be in her company. We mentioned a rabbit. It starts off dead and stays that way. Sis is still out of town; the swain comes to look after Deneuve's welfare, and the landlord comes for his rent. There's also a nosey neighbor who we see in a pass-through shot whenever Deneuve's door is open to callers. Here, Deneuve proves to be handy in a pinch, in spite of her mental deterioration. Sis and lover eventually come home and probably wish they'd stayed a bit longer in Italy. I'd heard that "Repulsion" was a masterpiece, a tour de force, etc. For me , it starts too slowly, is boringly understated and not at all the fright piece it's alleged to be. However, Deneuve is pretty; and the rabbit doesn't bother anyone either.
"Summer of Sam" opens and closes with Jimmy Breslin, sufficient warning that what lies ahead is a film which promises not to be as good as it should have been. Director Spike Lee indulges his every whim; grinds all axes, and manages to complete his agenda: a dizzying whirl of gratuitous foul language, ethnic, racial and sexual stereotyping, with mindless violence tossed in as a final lagniappe. The actual series of killings is relegated to repetitive shots of proper pistol grip, shattered auto glass and bloody victims. The "stars" are the summer of 1977, Reggie Jackson, and a collection of misfits, the core of whom want to be vigilantes. We are also treated to Spike Lee as a roving, rambling and somewhat incompetent t.v. reporter, who in one clip, goes to Harlem for "a darker view." The darker view would seem to come from a nasty place where the sun don't shine. Compared to some of the ersatz people in the cast, the Son of Sam character seems particularly benign. We are left with the felling that he did in all the wrong people. Those old enough to remember the "Movietone" and other shorts featuring talking chimps, camels, etc. may find one scene involving a dog as the last straw. Jimmy Breslin, in his second appearance at a DEAD END sign is appropriate. The summer of 1977 and this particular story deserve better. So does the audience.